WASHINGTON — The team developing the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) signed a letter of intent to work with Poland's leading state-run defense group PGZ on Wednesday and expects the Polish government to send a letter requesting more information from the US government on the system imminently.
The signing of the letter of intent with PGZ as well as Poland's remaining interest in MEADS has Lockheed Martin — the company that is leading the air-and-missile defense system's development — believing the actions are key steps toward being invited back to compete to build Poland's medium-range air-and-missile defense system.
The Wisla program, as it's known in Poland, was expedited several years ago as Russian aggression became a more serious cause for concern in the region. Initially in the running was Raytheon's Patriot, the MEADS system, Israel's David's Sling and an offering from a French consortium. However, in an effort to expedite procurement, Poland decided to eliminate MEADS and David's Sling from the competition because they are not yet fielded systems.
In 2015, Poland announced it would procure at least two — but up to eight — of the Patriot systems in current and future forms. But an election in November upended those plans as a new government opted to reconsider several major acquisition decisions made by the previous government, including Wisla.
The new government’s decision put any agreement between Poland and the US to buy Patriot on hold, and discussions reportedly reopened with the other companies involved in the previous competition, to include Lockheed.
PGZ signed a letter of intent with Raytheon to cooperate on a Polish missile defense program in July, paving the way for the country’s acquisition of Patriot.
And just yesterday, Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said he had formally authorized a letter of request for information be sent to the US government to buy the US Army-owned Patriot during a large press briefing at a military conference in the country.
Raytheon is eager to reach a solid agreement with Poland to buy Patriot, but what that will entail is still in question.
Macierewicz said Tuesday that the first two Patriot systems should have a different battle command system than what is in the current Patriot, specifically requesting Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS). IBCS is the US Army's chosen future battle command system.
Patriot has been integrated with IBCS in tests, but IBCS won’t reach initial operational capability until 2019.
And the following six Patriot batteries for Poland, according to the defense minister, should have a new 360-degree radar, but it’s unclear if that means Raytheon’s Gallium Nitride radar currently in testing or something else.
According to Lockheed’s MEADS director, Marty Coyne, the letter of intent with PGZ — signed during a public ceremony at the same military conference — sets the stage for Lockheed Martin to work with the defense group on satellites, aircraft and other defense equipment, but also included a separate letter of intent to co-develop and share work on MEADS specifically. The arrangement is similar to the co-development arrangement the MEADS program has with MBDA in Germany and Italy, Coyne said. The intent is to develop an offering for the Wisla program, he added.
While the US government opted to cancel the procurement of MEADS following a proof-of-concept phase, Germany has decided to continue working on the development of the system with Lockheed and MBDA Deutschland. Italy is expected to follow suit once Germany has solidified a contract to continue the development.
The US Army is only in the nascent stages of deciding how it will replace the Patriot system’s current radar in order to achieve a 360-degree capability, recently issuing a request for information asking for industry input on the feasibility of upgrading the current radar or replacing it outright. Both Raytheon and Lockheed responded to the request last month.
MEADS International issued a statement Wednesday outlining the future partnership with PGZ, noting that more than 50 percent of the workshare would be conducted by Polish industry to include work on systems engineering and integration, radar technology, PAC-3 missile co-production, and production of a medium-range, low-cost interceptor for the Wisla system and future use in MEADS.
With PGZ agreeing to work with both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to develop systems, and with the Polish government expressing interest in acquiring important data on both Patriot and MEADS, a declaration of a winner in the Wisla competition could be farther off than expected.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.